Monday, November 24, 2014

BATMAN/SPIDER-MAN - October 1997

New Age Dawning
Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Graham Nolan (penciler), Karl Kesel (inks), Gloria Vasquez & Heroic Age (colors), John Costanza (letters)

The Plot:  Batman follows Talia to New York, where she meets with the Kingpin.  Talia offers Kingpin a chance to join her father’s organization in exchange for a cure for his sick wife, Vanessa.  Spider-Man discovers Batman as he spies on Talia.  The heroes agree to join forces.  Kingpin accompanies Talia to Tibet to meet her father, Ra’s al Ghul.  Spider-Man and Batman follow.  As the heroes fight al Ghul’s men, Kingpin presses the button that should cause New York to be flooded.  Instead, it destroys al Ghul’s satellite.  Kingpin reveals that he’s been plotting against Ra’s al Ghul for months and that he invited Spider-Man and Batman along.  Ra’s al Ghul congratulates Kingpin and allows the heroes a safe journey home.  Later, Talia sends Batman a cure for Vanessa, stolen from her father’s scientists.  

The Subplots:  After being reunited with the Kingpin in Paris, Vanessa Fisk is now dying of what appears to be cancer.  Later, Ra’s al Ghul reveals that she was infected with a virus he designed to mimic cancer.  Before leaving for Tibet, Peter nervously tells MJ at his “favorite diner” Mickey’s that he’ll be gone for a while.

Web of Continuity:  This story is set after the Clone Saga, and after the Batman crossover “Contagion.”  

I Love the ‘90s:  Ra’s al Ghul is exploiting fears about the new millennium by triggering natural disasters across the globe.

Production Note:  This is a forty-eight page, bookshelf format one-shot on glossy paper.  The cover price is $4.95.

Review:  This is DC’s contribution to the Batman/Spider-Man crossover series; the first chapter was published by Marvel in 1995 and set shortly before the Clone Saga.  While J. M. DeMatteis wrote both chapters, he seems less interested in a psychological examination of the heroes this time, instead focusing on Kingpin and Ra’s al Ghul.  DeMatteis plays up the idea that both men are utterly ruthless but also surprisingly human, a concept dramatized very well in a conversation between Talia and Vanessa Fisk.  Both women have a hopeless belief that their partner can change, but both are blinded by love, be it paternal or romantic.  Kingpin is unexpectedly allowed to play the hero in the story, which is a great fake-out after DeMatteis goes out of his way to give him a plausible justification for working with Ra’s al Ghul.  I don’t remember where exactly it was established that Kingpin refuses to work with terrorists, ones targeting New York at least, but it’s a great character bit, one that J. M. DeMatteis puts to excellent use here.  There’s an interesting dynamic between Ra’s al Ghul and Kingpin, as Ra’s al Ghul is viewed as a more “honorable” villain than Kingpin, yet Kingpin is the one who’s pragmatic enough to realize just how revolting Ra’s al Ghul’s actions really are.

Because the villains receive so much of the focus, Batman and Spider-Man are often left in the background.  DeMatteis plays the heroes’ personalities against one another very well, but it’s clear that this story isn’t meant as a deep exploration of these characters.  DeMatteis covered that territory in the first chapter, which is explicitly in-continuity (with this specific crossover), so he isn’t going to repeat himself.  Spider-Man even tells Batman that they’re going to skip the obligatory hero vs. hero fight, because they did that the last time they met.  The first chapter had fantastic artwork from Mark Bagley, who draws a Batman that’s just as iconic as his Spider-Man, which sets the bar very high for Graham Nolan.  Nolan does perfectly competent work throughout the comic, but it’s hard to deny that his Batman far exceeds his Spidey.  Nolan’s Batman is an angular, black creature of the night when needed, and the brawny Neal Adams action hero whenever the story requires him to step out of the shadows.  Nolan’s Spider-Man is…straight out of Marvel Team-Up.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, there’s just a sense that we’ve seen this version of Spider-Man numerous times before.  Nolan’s art serves the story very well, but the pages featuring Spider-Man just don’t have the same impact as the Batman pages.  Perhaps that’s fitting for the DC chapter, but I'd love to see a Spider-Man that looks just as good as Batman.

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